Governor’s Initiative Would Change Legislative Districts

Gov. Larry Hogan (File photo)

Gov. Larry Hogan (File photo)

After years of Democratic dominance, Maryland’s legislative and congressional district lines could see an overhaul, due to an initiative put forth by Gov. Larry Hogan on Jan. 26. The proposal would create a constitutional amendment that places the power of drawing district lines in the hands of an independent nine-member panel. District lines are currently determined by the legislature and are  redrawn after each census every 10 years.

Maryland has been deemed by many experts as a state of with some of the most gerrymandered districts in the country — something Hogan hopes to reverse in a state where his party is outnumbered seven-to-one in its House delegation in Congress.

“For too long, fair elections and a healthy, strong and competitive two-party system have been nearly impossible in our state,” Hogan said in a news  release. “This is about recognizing a problem and choosing to do the right thing to solve it.”

Congressional districts are subject to a variety of federal standards such as requirements of being contiguous, compact and proportional. Yet, because states are given the power of drawing district lines, the criteria are not always adhered to. To combat this, states such as Indiana, where Republicans control roughly 80 percent of the  legislature, have created study  commissions to take up the issue.

We have evolved into a system where politicians choose voters on redistricting day before voters choose politicians on election day.
— State Sen. Jamie Raskin

Hogan began the process in August 2015 by appointing seven members to a nonpartisan reform committee to go along with two Democratic and two  Republican members of the legislature.

Michael Goff, a member of the committee, has lived in Maryland since 1977 and said despite being a registered Democrat,  he feels that gerrymandering hurts both parties since it makes elections less  competitive.

“The real problem in my opinion is that the districts are so lopsided in one district or the other,” he said. “Most people don’t care about one party or the other, they care about their congressman being  responsible and accountable.”

Goff is the CEO of the research group Northeast-Midwest Institute and also teaches political science at George Washington University. He noted that gerrymandering has plagued states around the country, leading to an overwhelming advantage for incumbents in Congress who run for  re-election.

“It’s a scandal that the United States Congress presents itself as representing the people, and it’s not,” he said. “That’s why presidents work to get people what they want and Congress is holding it up.”

Goff added that he thinks Maryland’s legislature cares more about “preserving their advantage in D.C.” than representing the people, and that can be seen in the  geographic boundaries of some districts.

“Some of these districts are so oddly drawn that you’d have a district that stretches all the way from Baltimore to the hinterlands, and people in the hinterlands wanted a district that was more agricultural,” he said.

The governor’s wish to level the political playing field in Maryland is being supported by some Democrats in the legislature as well as Republicans, including District 20 state Sen. Jamie Raskin, who represents parts of Montgomery County and is running for Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s seat in Congress. Raskin said he is pleased with the governor’s initiative and thinks the commission will be a “small step forward.”

“A seven-to-one split is definitely not a proportional allocation to the seats in our state,” he said. “The reason it’s been very tough to have progress on redistricting is because the party in control in the legislature has the power to make reforms but it has no incentives.”

Raskin thinks that gerrymandering has been the main force behind the “lynchpin of Republican control,” in Congress.

“We have evolved into a system where politicians choose voters on  redistricting day before voters choose politicians on election day,” he said.

Raskin has a redistricting plan of his own that would combine the forces of Maryland and Virginia  residents into a similar nonpartisan commission, known as the Potomac Compact. His  rationale is that the two neighboring states have state legislatures and governors of differing parties (Virginia has a Democratic  governor and a Republican legislature).

“The people of Maryland want to engage in redistricting reform and to rise above the partisanship, but it’s very hard to do it alone,” he said. “But if we do it with our partners in Virginia, we’ve got our head in the game.”

Raskin, who also teaches constitutional law at American University, said that states often enter into compacts with each other in order to conduct  interstate commerce, such as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) that falls under the jurisdiction of both states along with Washington, D.C. He has written about the subject previously in The Baltimore Sun and Yale Law  Review and plans to  introduce legislation in the coming week.

The concept of redistricting has also been supported by the Baltimore Jewish Council in the past, including the plan that followed the 1990 census.

“It was answering questions about the Jewish community,” executive director Art Abramson said. “Our goal was to make sure the Jewish community would remain well-represented.”

Abramson added that this goal will be the same for any upcoming redistricting plan, although the BJC  cannot take a position with either party due to their status as a 501(c)(3)  organization.

Loud and Clear! BBYO’s Baltimore message of social justice resonates with Jewish teens


More than 2,400 Jewish teens came to Baltimore for BBYO’s annual International Convention Feb. 11 though Feb. 15, including this group from Maryland and Washington, D.C. (Photo by David Stuck)

More than 2,400 teenage Jews from around the globe came to Baltimore last week and were spurred to action by the words of NAACP president and CEO Cornell Brooks, who told them the future was in their hands.

“We have a generation that is not prematurely pessimistic, not prematurely cynical about what they can do, the kind of impact they can have,” he said. “That generation, my generation, is now in this room at this moment in American history. That would be you.”

Brooks’ speech, which energized an already enthusiastic crowd, was one of many during the plenary session of BBYO’s annual International Convention, which was held Feb. 11 through Feb. 15 at the Hilton Baltimore and the Baltimore Convention Center. The convention focuses on social justice, leadership development and celebration with this year’s theme of “It Starts with Us,” sending a message to young people that their voices count.

Brooks consistently received loud applause throughout his 22-minute address and struck a chord with the crowd when he mentioned the recent deaths of Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice — African-Americans who have died while in police custody — and challenged the teens to speak out against racism.

“The victims of racial profiling are multigenerational, and the opponents of racial profiling need to be multigenerational,” he said. “We need Jews, we need African-Americans, we need young people, we need older people, and we need to stand strong together.”

We have a generation that is not prematurely pessimistic, not prematurely cynical about what they can do, the kind of impact they can have. That generation, my generation is now in this room at this moment in American history. That would be you.
— Cornell Brooks, NAACP president

Brooks also touched on the shared history of Jews and African-Americans that dates back to the civil rights movement, when Jews made up 50 percent of the attorneys representing African-Americans in matters of voting rights, housing and education among other issues. He also cited last summer’s 50th anniversary march from Selma, Ala. to Washington, D.C. that included 150 rabbis who carried Torahs.

Lizzy Cohen (left) of Baltimore shares a happy moment with new friends Molly Opinsky (center) and Elana Tobb, both of Washington, D.C. (Photo by David Stuck)

Lizzy Cohen (left) of Baltimore shares a happy moment with new friends Molly Opinsky (center) and Elana Tobb, both of Washington, D.C. (Photo by David Stuck)

“However you carry the Torah, over your right shoulder or your left shoulder, it lays across your heart,” he proclaimed. “When you carry God’s word 1,002 miles, you have justice resting on your heart.”

Brooks concluded by imploring that the struggle for civil rights is not over and said new laws such as voter identification requirements are evidence that discrimination has now expanded from an entire race to an entire generation. He challenged everyone to join the NAACP and start their own chapters in their schools and even challenged the teens to take “selfies” of social justice.

“This is not a war against them as in African-Americans, it’s a war against you as young people,” Brooks said. “Students have always been in the lead, young people have always been in the lead. We need you now to lead this justice movement.”


Some of the more than 2,400 attendees cheer one of the convention’s speakers. (Photo by David Stuck)

The conference has expanded substantially from its start, and this year hosted teens from 27 countries and more than 700 Jewish communities around the globe, all of whom were welcomed by the BBYO leadership at opening ceremonies, then enjoyed a musical performance and dancing.

Such scenes are sometimes overwhelming for first-timers such as Katie Schreck, who made the short trip from Rockville, Md., to the convention, but she said she is meeting a lot of people.

“There are a lot of Jewish people in the area where I live, so I feel like it’s kind of sheltered me a little bit,” she said. “I don’t really know what it’s like other places, so it’s really shocking me. There are people in Los Angeles who love BBYO, who love Judaism just as much as me.”

Schrek, 16, said she was moved by several of the plenary speakers’ presentations because each tapped into the teen spirit of social action, especially regarding access to education, which is one of Schrek’s passions.

“I think a lot of the things they talked about — how teens are the future — are really prevalent to the theme of this convention,” she said. “It starts with us, because it really is going to be what this generation makes it.” she said.

It starts with us, because it really is going to be what this generation makes it.
— Katie Schreck, 16

Alyssa Miller, 16, from Pikesville, said she only knew five people when she walked in but now knows about 50. She too felt particularly engaged by the plenary speakers.

“I liked how all of the different speakers had different reasons why they were here,” and even with different ideas they are an “active voice for people who are voiceless,” she said.

Baltimore attendees were in full force and included (top row, from left) Jordyn Robinson, Sara Buchdahl, Hannah Lobell and Jamie Neumann and (bottom row, from left) Remy Wendell, Lauren Schwartz, Jennie Jacobs and Alanna Sereboff. (Photo by David Stuck)

Baltimore attendees were in full force and included (top row, from left) Jordyn Robinson, Sara Buchdahl, Hannah Lobell and Jamie Neumann and (bottom row, from left) Remy Wendell, Lauren Schwartz, Jennie Jacobs and Alanna Sereboff. (Photo by David Stuck)

There was also a moving presentation by sisters Faiza and Moni — Syrian refugees who arrived in Baltimore in 2014 after fleeing the civil war in their homeland.

Faiza, 17, said that since coming to the United States she has taken well to social media and has fit in well with her peers for the most part, but occasionally she must answer questions at school about her hijab and explain to students that she is not a part of ISIS.

“Not all people know why we wear a hijab, and not all people know it’s not different [for us],” she said of the cultural misunderstandings she has faced.

During the afternoons, the teens broke off into leadership labs geared at tackling important social justice issues such as homelessness, philanthropy, Israel advocacy and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

In a gender-inclusion lab, teens discussed ways to implement LGBTQ education programming into their local communities. The group leader challenged everyone to find innovative ways of explaining its importance and emphasized that advocating for rights sometimes means brushing up against society.

Rockville, Md.’s turnout shows its BBYO enthusiasm. (Photo by David Stuck)

Rockville, Md.’s turnout shows its BBYO enthusiasm. (Photo by David Stuck)

“When you’re in a position to enact change, there’s a part of you that might feel like you’re being disrespectful of people you love who taught you otherwise, and that’s a real challenge,” the group leader said.

BBYO also provides a vehicle for leadership development, as has been the case with Jack Hirsh of Villanova, Pa. Hirsh, 18, attended the conference in Atlanta last year and participated in BBYO’s Jewish Enrichment Institute the past two years, where he learned to lead songs and play guitar. Hirsh serves as the communications vice president for BBYO’s Liberty Region, which he said helped him to grow personally and to consider journalism as a career.

“Serving in that position on a chapter level really got me into writing and working with communications and social media,” he said. “I’ve grown to love social media from a professional view, and this year I’m actually the regional vice president of communications for my region.”
Pittsburgh’s Zach Christiansen also attended the conference last year but said the size of this year’s convention has opened his eyes to the importance of Jews being connected with one another.

Officers of the Northern Region East, which includes Baltimore and Washington, D.C., welcome the International Convention. (Photo by David Stuck)

Officers of the Northern Region East, which includes Baltimore and Washington, D.C., welcome the International Convention. (Photo by David Stuck)

“This time at [the convention] I’ve really had the chance to branch out and understand the globalization efforts that [this] is really all about,” he said. “I went to the [the conference] global partner summit, and meeting all the kids from all these different countries is amazing.”

Christiansen, 17, said the level of enthusiasm during opening ceremonies was “unreal,” and at that moment he felt connected with everyone in the room.

He said, “Just the unanimous spirit present when everyone was up on [their] toes and we were all singing, you feel like you are part of something greater.”

Sitting Circuit Court Judges Put to the Test Two challengers step into the ring for 15-year terms

From left: Baltimore City Circuit Court Judges Audrey Carrion, Wanda Keyes Heard, Karen “Chaya” Friedman, Michael DiPietro, Cynthia Jones and Shannon Avery. (Provided)

From left: Baltimore City Circuit Court Judges Audrey Carrion, Wanda Keyes Heard, Karen “Chaya” Friedman, Michael DiPietro, Cynthia Jones and Shannon Avery. (Provided)

Judges’ names appear low on ballots, below presidential candidates, below those running for Congress and Senate and below those running to be Baltimore’s next mayor and councilpersons — all races that are more recognized in the national and local news media and are arguably on the radar of the general public.

Most judges are appointed by the governor and then have to run in the next election cycle. In the upcoming election, Circuit Court Judges in  various judicial jurisdictions around the state are running to serve 15-year terms.

There are six sitting Circuit Court judges in Baltimore City who are up for election. While the judges went through an extensive vetting process that includes a lengthy application, background investigations and a number of interviews with several levels of government and law organizations, challengers can bypass this entire process and run in the election, as two challengers are doing in Baltimore City.

In Baltimore County, two sitting judges, Kathleen Cox and Keith Truffer, are running unopposed. But the six sitting city judges, who campaign and raise money together, caution voters that the other candidates have not been vetted and gone through the rigorous process that they did, while their challengers argue that they are being vetted by the voters. Others think judges shouldn’t be elected.

“It’s a ridiculous thing we do,” said Donald Norris, director of the school of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “Judges should be impartial interpreters of the law. They shouldn’t have to go out and raise money, they shouldn’t have to go out and advertise for themselves, they shouldn’t have to campaign.”

Norris also guesses that only a small percentage of voters even know who the judges are, let alone their records, since a tiny fraction of the population actually casts votes for the lower sections of the ballot.

“It’s hardly even an exercise in democracy. It’s an exercise in a very tiny fraction of voters determining the outcome of important elections,” he said.

To become a Circuit Court judge, one must first fill out an extensive  application that details his or her  personal life and educational and professional background. Applicants are then interviewed by about a dozen of Maryland’s minority and specialty bar associations, who make recommendations to the local judicial nominating commissions, which are made of lawyers and non-lawyers. The commissions also review, investigate and interview applicants. Those commissions send their recommendations to the governor’s  office, which then reviews, investigates and interviews applicants. The governor then makes appointments to the court.

It’s hardly even an  exercise in democracy. It’s an exercise in a very tiny fraction of voters determining  the outcome of  important elections.
— Donald Norris, director of the school of public policy  at University of Maryland, Baltimore County

The sitting Circuit Court judges running for re-election for 15-year terms are Shannon Avery, Audrey Carrion, Michael DiPietro, Wanda Keyes Heard, Cynthia Jones and Karen “Chaya” Friedman, the first  female Orthodox Jewish judge to be appointed to the Circuit Court. Judges Carrion and Heard are running for their second 15-year terms. Their challengers are public defender Todd Oppenheim and Baltimore City District 1 Councilman Jim Kraft.

“[The challengers’] educational background hasn’t been reviewed, their professional background hasn’t been reviewed, their temperament hasn’t been reviewed. It’s just a name on the ballot that no one has ever had a chance to investigate or look at,” Friedman said at a recent Baltimore Jewish Council meeting, where she spoke along with Judges Avery and Jones. “The six of us have been extensively interviewed and investigated and collectively have a tremendous amount of experience.”

Oppenheim, who has been at the public defender’s office for 11 years and now works in the felony trial  division, is running against the very judges he appears in front of.

“I think that in being a judge, I could also have an impact on the system and do things differently,” he said.

Oppenheim’s website lays out a four-point plan, which includes  reforming Baltimore’s bail system, protecting residents from unlawful search and seizure, ending Baltimore’s war on drugs and making civil equality a basic right.

Friedman criticized Oppenheim for making statements about issues he can’t exactly change as a judge. She and her five colleagues cannot campaign in that way since they are bound by judicial ethics.

“[Our opponents] can make all these big statements that we are not permitted to make,” Friedman said.

But Oppenheim defends his plan, saying that a judge can use discretion within the law to address some of the issues. While he acknowledges that the sitting judges went through a painstaking process to get appointed, he believes the ultimate vetting process happens when talking to voters.

Kraft, a lawyer for 35 years who was elected to the City Council in 2004, agrees, and said he thinks there are still politics involved in the vetting process. As a white male who is very active in the Democratic Party, he’s not sure a Republican governor or the minority and specialty bar  associations would recommend and appoint him. And since he’d turn 68 the summer after he’d take the bench — Circuit Court judges have a mandatory retirement age of 70 — he thought running for the bench was the right thing to do. He thinks his experience in seeing how laws affect the everyday lives of people as well as bringing diverse parties together to settle difficult situations gives him good background to sit on the bench. (He served as a public defender in 1980s, and his private practice  focuses on family law and criminal law.) In addition, Kraft has around $122,000 in a campaign fund, according to a January report.

While Norris said it’s possible a  well-financed opponent could make a difference in the election if they got voters’ attention, he could not think of an example in which judges in good-standing were voted out of their positions.

“Although in theory it is ‘democratic’ to let the people weigh in on the  selection of judges, when the people don’t vote and a tiny fraction do and therefore control [the election], it’s not democratic at all,” he said.

Seeking Closure Palestinian terrorism victims, Israel advocates want more cases to be tried in U.S.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) saw in Israel’s justice system a lesson for  the United States.  (Daniel Schere)

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) saw in Israel’s justice system a lesson for the United States. (Daniel Schere)

Despite a commitment from the United States government to bring overseas terrorists to justice, American victims of Palestinian violence overseas are still searching for  answers. None of the 64 cases in the last 23 years has resulted in a conviction, prompting anger from some Jews here and in Israel.

In 2004, Congress passed the Koby Mandell Act, which created the  Office for Victims of Overseas Terrorism within the Department of Justice to handle cases of overseas terrorism against Americans. It came in response to the 2001 murder of 13-year-old American citizen Koby Mandell, who was living and attending school near the West Bank.

“We’ve been dealing with the Justice Department and the State Department since Day 1, since the Koby Mandell Act, and we know since we called them to prosecute [on behalf of] our client [Mandell] that they’re not coming through,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, an attorney and activist who leads the Shurat Hadin Law Center in Israel. For 15 years, Darshan-Leitner has worked with organizations around the world to make sure countries block funding from designated Palestinian terrorist groups and secure funding for victims and their families.

Last year, Shurat Hadin worked with other attorneys to win a lawsuit brought in a New York federal court against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The suit resulted in more than $200 million for victims of six attacks that occurred between 2002 and 2004 as reported by Washington Jewish Week. American courts may also try terrorists under the Antiterrorism Act of 1996 if the victims were American; however, Darshan-Leitner said the unwillingness of the Justice and State departments to get involved in these cases is “outrageous.”

“It’s disappointing. I don’t know if  [the Justice  Department] is evenhanded or if they’re inherently incompetent.”
— Robert Slatkin, chair of the  Baltimore Zionist District

“They want to play even, which they should, but not when it comes to pure justice,” she said. “Not when it comes to implementing the law or enforcing the law. When it comes to an act of murder, you have an obligation as an American citizen to take steps and prosecute. Otherwise, you’re betraying your own citizens.”

During a hearing in the Subcommittee on National Security on Feb. 2, lawmakers heard testimony from victims of Palestinian violence as well as from Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brad Wiegmann.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) challenged Wiegmann to put  together a task force to learn why the Justice Department has not prosecuted any Palestinian suspects.

Following the hearing, Sarah Stern, founder and president of the pro-Israel group Endowment for Middle East Truth, commended the committee for their work.

“Ever since Oslo, these victims of terrorism have become the invisible or disposable Americans,  whom, for political reasons, our government has decided are not deserving of the same justice as any other American citizen who has been killed,” she wrote in a statement. “The United States needs to seek justice for Americans everywhere and stop letting the Palestinians get away with murder, which will just encourage more terrorism directed against Americans.”

The unwillingness by U.S. courts to litigate cases involving Palestinians also has upset Zionists such as Robert Slatkin, chair of the Baltimore Zionist District. Slatkin believes the U.S. has not been more involved because it is afraid to aggravate Muslims around the world.

“It’s disappointing. I don’t know  if [the Justice Department] is evenhanded or if they’re inherently  incompetent,” he said.

Video Spurs Backlash HoCo faith, ethnic leaders won’t stand intolerance

The Howard County community, along with many others who viewed it on YouTube, was shocked by a racially charged, inflammatory video posted by a Mount Hebron High School student last week, and various faith and ethnic leaders in the community came forward with a message of their own.

“Earlier this week, bigotry, racial hatred and ignorance again reared its ugly head in Howard County. This time it came as a 30-second, profanity-laced video racist rant spread on social media,” the Howard County Coalition for Inclusion said via a written statement.

We don’t want students to think that the only way
their voice is heard is to walk out and protest.”
— Ebony Langford-Brown, executive director of
school improvement and curricular programs in the HCPSS

“In response, a coalition of community leaders from Howard County, coming from all walks of life and diverse ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds, now come together with one voice to condemn this latest display of hatred,” continued the statement.

The coalition includes the African American Community Roundtable of Howard County, Conexiones Inc., the Chinese American Parent Association, the Howard County Board of Rabbis, the Foreign Born Information and Referral Network, the Howard County Education Association, the Howard County Muslim Council and the United Maryland Muslim Council.

The statement went on, “In the coming weeks, this community coalition will work with community partners to plan effective ways for the students at the involved high school to talk safely and honestly among themselves about their divisions, their perceptions and how they can come together.”

While the student has since apologized for the video, in which, among other hateful statements, he says African-Americans are “an inferior race,” according to the Baltimore Sun, his apology didn’t stop more than 150 students at Mount Hebron from walking out of class in protest.

While not every incident has as much of an impact as this video, said Rabbi Susan Grossman, president of the Howard County Board of Rabbis, “there are incidents [like this] that happen in all schools, whether [they are] against African-Americans or Jews or Muslims. We must recognize — only when we work across our faiths and cultures — that we can make a lasting, sustainable impact.”

Grossman’s synagogue, Beth Shalom Congregation, is one of several Howard County religious organizations that regularly works across religious and ethnic lines. Last Friday, Beth Shalom held an interfaith service with the Rev. Tyrone P. Jones IV of First Baptist Church of Guilford and representatives of other ethnic groups in the community in honor of Black History Month. The synagogue is planning another interfaith dialogue on Feb. 28.

During Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, Beth Shalom Rabbi Daniel Plotkin went to Temple Adas Shalom to speak at a similar interfaith service led by Rabbi Gila Ruskin and St. James AME Church in Havre de Grace.

“It’s very disturbing to hear this type of video is making the rounds at Howard County schools,” said Plotkin. “Howard County schools were made around the idea of diversity and zoning the land in a way that allowed each school to mix different races, backgrounds and income levels. [This video] falls outside the vision of the founding of Columbia.”

Ebony Langford-Brown is the executive director of school improvement and curricular programs in the Howard County Public School System. She emphasized how the curriculum at each grade level incorporates lessons on diversity such as African-American and Jewish history.

In response to events like this, she said, the school system reminds social studies and English teachers of how to address controversial issues with students as well as how to bring students into the dialogue.

“We don’t want students to think that the only way their voice is heard is to walk out and protest,” said Langford-Brown.

The Rev. Larry Walker, deputy pastor/chief-of-staff at Celebration Church in Columbia, was one of several individuals involved, along with Grossman, in writing the Coalition’s statement. He believes the relationship between African-Americans and the Jewish community in Howard County is strong and commended Grossman on doing “a phenomenal job in reaching out to and being inclusive of other ethnic groups in the county.”

However, he said, “there are a few [people] that we have to scratch our heads and wonder what decade they are living in.”

BJC Scaling Back End-of-Life Opposition

briefBJCThe Baltimore Jewish Council will not take a major role in opposing the End-of-Life Option Act in the Maryland General Assembly this session, the council announced at a recent board meeting.

The BJC still opposes the legislation, proposed by Del. Shane Pendergrass (D-District 13) and Sen. Ronald Young (D-District 3), because choosing to end one’s life goes against Halacha, or Jewish law.

“We have not changed any positions on [end-of-life options], but rather than a vigorous offense on it, we have made a decision — because the community is so concerned about the bill — that we are not going to take what I would describe as one of the key leadership roles in opposing it,” BJC executive director Art Abramson said.

He said the BJC’s lobbyists have been instructed not to testify against the bill or take any sort of leadership role in opposing it. The BJC will be writing a letter, which may be submitted as written testimony. If legislators ask BJC officials what the organization’s position is, they’ll tell them they’re opposed to the legislation and explain why, Abramson said.

The End-of-Life Option Act,  introduced in both legislative chambers on Jan. 28, allows terminally ill, mentally competent individuals with six-month prognoses to obtain a prescription for a lethal drug through a physician.

The BJC drew criticism from many members of the Jewish community — including Pendergrass — who support the bill. Last year, the BJC and many organizations testified against what they felt was a flawed bill. Revisions to this year’s bill include a requirement that the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene collect and  report data as well as measures to  remove the possibility of coercion.

Obama Visits Baltimore Mosque

President Barack Obama visits the Islamic Society of Baltimore on Feb. 3. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun/TNS/Newscom)

President Barack Obama visits the Islamic Society of Baltimore on Feb. 3. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun/TNS/Newscom)

President Barack Obama visited the Islamic Society of Baltimore Wednesday, Feb. 3 in his first visit to a mosque in the U.S. during his presidency. In a 45-minute address, he called on Americans to embrace Islam as a religion of peace.

Obama referenced recent tragedies in Boston, Chattanooga, Tenn., and San Bernardino, Calif., that were carried out by Islamic terrorists and emphasized that they represent only a small fraction of all Muslims.

“Groups like al-Qaeda and ISIL, they’re not the first extremists in  history to misuse God’s name,” Obama said in the speech. ”We’ve seen it before, across faiths. But right now, there is an organized extremist element that draws selectively from Islamic texts, twists them in an  attempt to justify their killing and their terror. They combine it with false claims that America and the West are at war with Islam.”

Obama emphasized that it is  essential for the United States to deny those groups’ “legitimacy” and not buy into the religious propaganda they distribute.

“We can’t be at war with any other religion because the world’s religions are a part of the very fabric of the United States, our national character,” he said.

Baltimore Jewish Council executive director Art Abramson said that  although he was not able to attend the speech, the president’s visit was “extremely important and valuable” in helping to bridge religious divides.

“Despite what certain political candidates are accusing the Muslim community of, with President Obama’s visit to the mosque, he has signified that community’s importance as a major part of American life,” he said.

In a written statement, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) praised the president on his plea for religious tolerance.

“As Americans, religious freedom is baked into our DNA,” he said. “The finer moments of our history are those where we have stood up to bigotry and prejudice. In that spirit, we must seize every opportunity to celebrate the contributions that proud and diverse communities — like Maryland’s Muslim community — bring to our broader society.”

The Power of Engagement Congregations look to members to guide — and create — the future

cover1Lynne Kirsner and her husband have remained members of Temple Oheb Shalom over the years mainly to attend High Holiday services and because they have a number of friends there. Until recently, Kirsner wasn’t very involved in the congregation.

But after being tapped for a role in assessing what the congregation can do to engage more members, Kirsner has found herself more engaged. She’s made new friends in the congregation, come to know acquaintances better and is even facilitating a newly formed interest group that is taking a day trip to Philadelphia.

“As we continued to meet and respond to relational questions, I came to love and admire my social acquaintances that I have known for 30 years,” she said. “I got to know some congregants I had never known before, and I’m really enjoying these relationships.”

Oheb Shalom is one of six Baltimore synagogues that recently took part in an engagement partnership through The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and the Darrell Friedman Institute for Professional Development at the Weinberg Center. The goal of the partnership is to help the synagogues, along with a number of Jewish communal organizations, engage more members and become more relevant in members’ lives.

 Clockwise from front: Rabbi Rachel Blatt, director of lifelong learning at Beth Israel; Ken Davidson, executive director of Baltimore Hebrew; facilitator and Beth Am member David Lunken; and Beth Israel Rabbi Jay Goldstein at a synagogue engagement partnership meeting. (Photo by Provided)

Clockwise from front: Rabbi Rachel Blatt, director of lifelong learning at Beth Israel; Ken Davidson, executive director of Baltimore Hebrew; facilitator and Beth Am member David Lunken; and Beth Israel Rabbi Jay Goldstein at a synagogue engagement partnership meeting. (Photo by Provided)

The idea came out of a statistic from The Associated’s 2010 Greater Baltimore Jewish Community Study. Nearly half (43 percent) of those surveyed felt that Jewish organizations were remote and/or not relevant. Thanks to a $40,000 grant from the Kolker-Saxon-Hallock Family Foundation and a $15,000 grant from The Associated, the synagogues and organizations were able to come together for trainings and exchange ideas as they underwent their engagement campaigns to try to reverse this trend.

Jeannie Appleman, senior organizer and trainer at Jewish Organizing Institute and Network for Justice, led the trainings, which focused on creating a culture of ownership in organizations and how to leverage congregants and leaders and the relationships among them to achieve this.

“I’m what you call an old-school organizer, so it’s very much about relationships and what’s called ‘the iron rule,’ which is don’t do for others what they can do for themselves,” she said.

Appleman trained the organization in how to conduct “listening campaigns,” structured conversations with congregants in one-on-one and group settings in which congregants talk about his or her connection to the synagogue, interests and a variety of personal stories.

“It’s a way to do several things at once,” Appleman said. “One is to uncover new leaders and to uncover the hopes and dreams, the passions, the concerns, the talent and really the myriad of self-interests that members have. When you have that kind of information about your membership, it does a lot of things. It can direct the synagogue going forward.”

Vicki Spira (left), chair of Temple Oheb Shalom’s engagement partnership committee, and Maxine Lowy, director of development and special programs. (Photo by David Stuck)

Vicki Spira (left), chair of Temple Oheb Shalom’s engagement partnership committee, and Maxine Lowy, director of development and special programs. (Photo by David Stuck)

The first cohort of synagogues included Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, Temple Oheb Shalom and Beth Am Synagogue in 2014, and a year later they were joined by the second cohort, which included Beth Israel Congregation, Chizuk Amuno Congregation and Beth El Congregation. The organizations involved in the partnership were CHAI, CHANA, DFI, Jews United for Justice, the Myerberg Center, the Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education, The Associated and a Washington, D.C., synagogue, Temple Micah.

Those involved in the partnership look at it as a cultural shift within synagogues that focuses on empowering congregants to take ownership of their experiences and build deeper relationships within the organizations.

Oheb Shalom focused its listening campaign on baby boomers, who make up about a third of its congregation with approximately 400 people.

“We really felt at this point they were the least engaged demographic at the congregation. We do a lot for our young families, but baby boomers are our biggest financial supporters,” said Maxine Lowy, director of development and special programs. “We run the risk of them saying, ‘My kids aren’t here, I don’t need to belong to a congregation anymore.’”

Oheb Shalom spoke with about 175 people in small group conversations, and even hosted a baby boomer Shabbat service in which members played guitar and sang with the cantor and shared stories about their relationship with the temple. From Oheb’s efforts, the congregation learned that baby boomers want to be involved in small groups that are centered around common interests, and they’d be willing to plan activities.

Three groups have already sprung up — a contemporary issues group that is planning a trip to the National Museum of American Jewish History and the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, a foodie group that is planning a variety of activities and a tikkun olam group that wants to go above and beyond what the synagogue is already doing in social action.

Andy Wayne, director of communications at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. (Photo by David Stuck)

Andy Wayne, director of communications at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. (Photo by David Stuck)

“What we’re really doing is going back to a time when congregants created their congregation,” Lowy said.

Vicki Spira, one of the board’s executive vice presidents and the chair of Oheb Shalom’s engagement partnership committee, said she’s seen a lot of engagement and leadership development come out of the effort.

“It really is a culture shift, and I think that takes time. I’m encouraged by it. I don’t by any means think it’s a panacea, but I’m energized by it,” she said. “I’ve seen more happen than I’ve seen in a long time.”

Baltimore Hebrew may soon follow in Oheb’s footsteps. The synagogue’s listening campaign focused on the congregation’s adult population. One-on-one conversations were held with about 70 people ranging in age from the late 20s to the early 80s.

“First of all, we learned that there’s a great love of our clergy and we have provided for congregants in times of need,” said Andy Wayne, director of communications and engagement. “We’ve also learned that there are so many opportunities to deepen our congregants’ involvement based off their ideas, their talents and their investment in Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.”

Chizuk Amuno Congregation (Photo by David Stuck)

Chizuk Amuno Congregation (Photo by David Stuck)

The themes of social justice and social action came up a lot in conversation.

Those who conducted conversations presented their findings to Baltimore Hebrew’s board recently, which will determine what actions to take based on those findings.

Bobbi Perlman, chair of Baltimore Hebrew’s engagement partnership and a board member, said members of the engagement committee will reach back out to people who took part in the conversations to see if they’d like to get groups together around common interests, and a letter will be sent to the congregation’s members about the findings.

“We learned a lot from it,” Perlman said. “With this mechanism, the one-on-ones, we can do this for other information we might want to hear about from our congregation.”

Wayne said the partnership came at a great time for Baltimore Hebrew as it prepares to absorb the members of Temple Emanuel into its congregation, the details of which are still being worked out.


Temple Oheb Shalom (Photo by David Stuck)

“There’s a lot of opportunity for us to think about our mission, to have BHC continue as a dynamic congregational community,” he said. “This year is the 10th anniversary of Rosh Hashanah Under the Stars, which is nationally one of the largest gatherings of Jews. We know we are prime to grow our congregation but we also want to see how we can be a light for Baltimore’s Jewish community.”

At Beth Am, those who took part in conversations found it to be a very positive experience, so the congregation decided to take this model of relational meetings to three areas of the synagogue.

“Listening to congregants was interesting, rewarding, and we learned a lot, and those that were listened to definitely said it was a positive experience,” said David Lunken, who was involved in Beth Am’s engagement process. He also was on the original committee that formulated the engagement partnership and served as a facilitator for Baltimore Hebrew and Beth Israel. “We did get some insights into specific things that were working that we could do better. We also learned about people’s passions and interests and things they’d like to be doing.”

In onboarding of new members, the synagogue will utilize these meetings to learn about and engage new members. Committee chairs and others leading certain synagogue groups are implored to have these kinds of relational meetings with those they work with in order to get to know them better and capitalize on people’s strengths and interests. And the synagogue board will also use the methods to engage and learn about Beth Am’s congregants and leaders.

Beth Am Synagogue (Photo by David Stuck)

Beth Am Synagogue (Photo by David Stuck)

Chizuk Amuno Congregation, part of the engagement partnership’s second cohort, is undergoing a listening campaign that will likely last until May. The committee is hoping to interview 75 to 100 congregants in small groups and has decided to focus its campaign on individuals in the 35 to 50 age range.

“They represent a large portion of our overall membership and also are a lot of school families, between Krieger Schechter Day School and Hebrew school. They, hopefully, have a lot invested in the future of the synagogue,” said Stephani Braverman, the board chair for member engagement.

In addition to getting to know its members better, Braverman said the hope is to identify future leaders and make listening campaigns an ongoing part of member engagement as well as integral to the new member experience.

Beth Israel is focusing its listening campaign, which is still in progress, on families with children that are pre- and post-bar and bat mitzvah age. Beth Hecht, the chair of the engagement partnership team, said she sees this a culture shift at the synagogue.

“We’re looking at our future, we’re looking at making synagogue as meaningful as possible,” she said. “The synagogue should be relevant to [members] throughout their lives.”

Beth Israel Congregation (Photo by David Stuck)

Beth Israel Congregation (Photo by David Stuck)

While she said it’s too early to quantify any results, the general trend is that people have enjoyed being a part of the process and sharing their stories.

Cindy Goldstein, executive director of DFI, thinks that overall the engagement partnership reignited the idea of the power of relationships and added that the fact the listening campaigns and community conversations caught on so well signals to her that people want to get to know each other and be engaged on a deeper level.

“I hope that ultimately every organization will recognize the art of relationship building and create this culture shift of people before program, of being transformational as opposed to transactional,” she said via email. “A one-to-one relationship with people takes time — in order to build in a culture of ownership — but it’s the only way we will ultimately be able to engage and re-engage all members of our Jewish community and be sustainable and relevant into the future.”

Edward Attman Devoted to family, faith; passed away at age 95

Edward Attman, center, with his four sons (from left) David, Gary, Ron and Steven attman. (Provided)

Edward Attman, center, with his four sons (from left) David, Gary, Ron and Steven attman. (Provided)

Edward Attman, founder of the Acme Paper & Supply Co., Inc. and longtime member of Chizuk Amuno Congregation, passed away Feb. 2 at Sinai Hospital. He was 95.

A noted contributor to Jewish communal causes, he was equally devoted to his faith and his family.

“He was the patriarch of the family,” his son, Ron Attman, 68, said. “He set the tone for us, taught us how to live a good and productive life and not only to provide for yourself, but for the people in the community. That’s a big part of his legacy.”

Attman, the son of Attman’s Deli founders Harry and Ida Attman, was the first in his family to attend college, and he cultivated his work and family ethic early in life. Family lore identifies his mother as encouraging him to go into the paper industry because of her interaction with vendors at the deli.

According to Ron, Ida said to her son, “You know the person who sells those paper products, he’s always dressed nice, and he has a product that doesn’t spoil. And everybody needs it.”

Since Attman started the business in 1946, up “until he was 95, he came into the office every day,” another son, Steven Attman, 59, said, adding that his father always arrived early and stayed until some of his last employees left at 5:30 p.m.

But he came in a bit later on “Tuesdays and Thursdays, when he went to the LifeBridge gym and worked out with a trainer,” Ron said.

Attman was also a force to be reckoned with at trade shows, pounding miles of aisles for hours, dressed in a suit but sporting tennis shoes. Even his grandchildren, some of whom work at Acme Paper, had a hard time keeping pace.

“He had a dignity to him that really impressed us,” said another son, Gary Attman, 61. “He was always dressed in a jacket and a tie. He didn’t take short cuts. It wasn’t his way.”

“Yes, he had standards, and he wasn’t shy about expressing what they were,” echoed Steven. “He was a teacher, and he didn’t have any hesitation saying to his kids or grandkids exactly what he was thinking in a way that was coming from his heart and what was in our best interests to learn. And we never took it in a bad way. We understood our father was always trying to make us better men.”

As he grew his company, “my father would work late every night,” during the week, said Steven. “But on Shabbos we’d be all six of us. We’d have dinner together, it was a wonderful time for us. Then every Saturday we’d go to Chizuk Amuno … then we’d all come home for lunch together. So we had a lot of time together as a family.”

Devotion to Judaism as well as instilling a strong sense of faith in his children was important to Attman.

“We all went to Talmudical Academy, then went to Baltimore Hebrew College to extend our Jewish education and foundation. It was important to our parents, and it was one of the greatest things they ever gave to us,” Steven said.

Even after starting his own business, Attman continued to work on Saturday nights at the deli. But being a father and husband was just as important. He always managed to balance work, life and his Jewish faith, his sons said.

“I just remember every Sunday was so special to me because during the week my mother kept us up to see him coming home every night,” Ron said. “But Sunday we really got to spend time with him. He’d bring lox and bagels home, bagels he got right out of the oven” from the deli.

Sunday was also time for daytrip drives and dinners out, said son David Attman, 65.

Like any true Baltimorean, Attman’s devotion extended to sports. At Baltimore Colts games in the 1950s and ’60s, the whole family attended, even though Attman held only four seats, which were conveniently located.

“The usher would have an extra fold-up seat available” at the end of the aisle, Gary recalled. “So there were five chairs and six of us, and my father would carry one of us, either Steven or me, over the turnstile, and you know, he was a local guy; I think he knew the guy at the turnstile and they’d say ‘OK.’ Then we’d have a fantastic lunch — hot chocolate, and it was the best food we ever ate — like tuna sandwiches and Fritos and cookies — we just enjoyed it so much.”

In 1958, “my father took David and me to the All-Star Game — the first time they had a [Major League baseball] All-Star Game [in Baltimore], Ron recalled. “Then later that year, when the Colts played the Giants in the NFL championship game — it was the first sudden-death game and its called the Greatest Game Ever Played — he took us to New York for that game.”

To make up for lost Saturday date nights, Attman would take his wife out on Mondays and Thursdays; they might go bowling or to a movie.

His love of family grew as the family did. He welcomed daughters-in-law with open arms and was particularly devoted to grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“One of his greatest pleasures was we’d go out to lunch (from work) just about every day with three generations of his family,” said Ron. “It was so meaningful for his grandsons to be able to spend that kind that time with their grandfather and know him as a person, not just as a grandfather.”

Attman had an extremely close relationship with his brothers, the late Seymour Attman and also Leonard Attman, who is founder and chairman of the board of FutureCare Health.

I “talked to him virtually every night,” for decades, Leonard, 81, said. “Don’t let the brothers be torn apart by anyone or anything,” Leonard remembers his parents insisting, especially his mother.

“They were so close,” David said. “And we learned what a brother relationship should be by watching my father and his brothers.”

Another gift handed down from Harry and Ida was the importance of tzedakah.

As a businessman, Attman “would get solicitation letters from yeshivas, rabbis, people who might have a medical or financial problem,” Ron said. “A couple of times a year he’d get all the letters together and send each person a check. It may not have been a lot of money, but he sent them all something.”

Attman generously supported The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. He also was a longtime supporter of the Jewish National Fund, Chizuk Amuno, Israel Bonds, Baltimore City College and Talmudical Academy, and there is a scholarship program in memory of his wife at University of Baltimore. Shoresh’s Attman Village is a project sponsored by Attman and his brothers, Seymour and Leonard, to perpetuate “their belief in supporting an opportunity for every Jewish child to learn about their roots,” Steven said. The brothers believed that knowledge of legacy and heritage enriches life to an immeasurable degree.

“Dad was really the conscience of our family,” added David, “and the way he showed it the best was when my mom got sick. Dad took care of her, made sure she was dressed beautifully, had dinner with her every night, always addressed her appropriately and respectfully and that wasn’t easy for him,” physically or emotionally.

Attman was married to his wife, Mildred, for 66 years before she passed away in June 2012. They first met at his parents’ deli but it was in school at the University of Baltimore, where they really began their courtship, his sons said. Attman left to serve in World War II in North Africa, Sardegna and Italy as a sergeant in the Fifth Army Corps and the Signal Corps. Mildred wrote him regularly, and when he returned in June, 1945, Attman immediately called to ask her out.

But her father answered and told Attman that Mildred wasn’t home, Ron said, having heard the story from his father many times. “So my father said, ‘OK, I’ll call back at 6 o’clock.’ Mildred’s father tracked her down and said, “‘Eddie Attman’s going to call you at 6 o’clock, and you better be home!’” Ron said his father would finish the story saying, “He was a smart guy. He knew I would be good to her.”

“And they really were lovers, there was no lack of public displays of affection,” Gary said. “They kissed, they hugged, they held hands, and they taught us what a real marriage was and should be.”

“People say dad was lucky to have four sons and a nice family,” David said. “We always felt we were so very lucky to have him, to have this much time with him and to learn the lessons that he shared with us.”

Edward Attman is survived by sons Ronald (Stephanie) Attman, David (late Bobbi) Attman, Gary (Patricia) Attman and Steven (Lisa) Attman; brother Leonard (Phyllis) Attman; grandchildren Lisa (Adam) Palmer, Scott (Donna) Attman, Andrew (Julie) Attman, Keith (Alissa) Attman, Rachel Attman, Michael (Kori) Attman, Sarah Rose Attman, Carlyn Attman and Shelby Attman; and great-grandchildren Ryan Attman, Sydney Attman, Samuel Attman, Chase Palmer, Alexandra Palmer, Dylan Attman, Mollie Attman and Tyler Attman.

He was preceded in death by Mildred Attman (née Cohen) and brother Seymour Attman.

A $6.8 Million Campaign for Gilchrist, The Associated Funds will go toward new wing, Jewish community resources

The new addition at Gilchrist will be a place for families to gather, outfitted with a variety of familiar Jewish symbols.(Renderings provided)

The new addition at Gilchrist will be a place for families to gather, outfitted with a variety of familiar Jewish symbols.(Renderings provided)

Gilchrist Hospice Care has partnered with The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore on a fundraising campaign to expand hospice programs and resources in the Jewish community.

The $6.8 million fundraising  campaign will allow for renovations and a 2,400-square-foot addition at Gilchrist Center Towson, an endowment to help Gilchrist engage the Jewish community and funds to allow The Associated and Jewish Community Services to bring Jewish resources to hospice providers and help the Jewish community navigate hospice programs.

“We recognize at Gilchrist that  although we are very well trained in the work and care for people who are dying, the more we can find and  integrate the unique customs and  rituals of various populations or groups of people who share certain customs and rituals, we also have the responsibility to do that better,” said Catherine Hamel, executive director of Gilchrist Hospice Care.

The addition will include a sanctuary, a family room, a courtyard, a kosher cooking area and additional patient rooms. The endowment will fund an employee whose responsibilities  include educating the community about hospice and engaging other  organizations that serve the Jewish population.

The fundraising campaign was dreamed up by Steven Fader, the president and CEO of MileOne  Automotive and chairman of Caves Valley Partners, whose father was cared for by Gilchrist prior to his death in 2011.

So much of  hospice really is for the living  because you’re the one that goes on. — Steven Fader

“I found them to be absolutely  exceptional people. The nurses were caring [in] the way they dealt with my dad and my mom,” Fader said. “They’re angels. They understand the process of death, how it’s happening, when it’s happening. I found them to be a great source of comfort as we were going down that path.”

After his father passed away, Fader realized that the Jewish community could use more resources and education in the area of hospice care. So he spoke with The Associated, officials at Gilchrist and the board members at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, whose Towson campus  includes Gilchrist. From those talks, Fader set out to raise money for the new addition and resources in the community.

“So much of hospice really is for the living because you’re the one that goes on,” Fader said.

Hamel agrees.

“The work of hospice is first about the patient and fulfilling their wishes and helping them to accomplish any remaining life dreams and goals, then caring for the survivors or the loved ones of that patient as they’ve had to reframe their new lives without this person’s presence,” she said.

The new space will include Jewish symbols such as the eternal light, mezuzahs and Jerusalem stone. Hamel emphasized that the new space will be welcoming to all.

“[It] will be another place in the building where families and loved ones can gather to reflect and receive comfort while their loved one is dying,” she said.

In September, Gilchrist hired Chaya Lasson to be the program manager of these new initiatives. The endowment fund from the campaign will support her and her work, which includes educating the community about hospice and engaging with community agencies that serve the Jewish population. In conjunction with JCS, all of Gilchrist’s staff was trained in December in the customs and rituals associated with death and dying in the Jewish community.

Fader said the fundraising is about 75 percent done, and a number of foundations have given sizable donations, and individuals have donated as well.

“I hope for an opening of this new wing in late spring, early summer,”  he said.